Tidbits: Highest mountain in South Dakota.
Sylvan Lake, at the base of the trail, was the location of the treasure in "National Treasure 2, Book of Secrets".
Summitted, September 14, 2007
Time Zone: GMT -7 hours
When to go:
The best time to go is spring, summer and autumn. Winter brings unpredictable weather and bitter cold. Summer can bring uncomfortable heat.
I selected the Harney-Sylvan Lake trail which approaches the mountain from the south, starting in Custer State Park. It is about 7 miles roundtrip with 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
Hotel and Climb Reservation:
No guide, permit, or trail reservations are required.
Standard light hiking gear and water for a short hike including water and sunscreen. Most of the trail is class-1, so you can get by with sneakers.
At the intersection of State Route 89 and State Route 87, enter Custer State Park on Route 87. There is a small admission fee. Proceed about 1/2 mile to the Sylvan Lake Day Use Parking area (next to the beautiful Sylvan Lake). The trailhead is clearly marked.
South Dakota is a land of understated superlatives. I had just seen Mount Rushmore and then was absolutely humbled when I drove to the lesser known (and infinitely larger) Crazy Horse Monument, which makes Rushmore look like a table-top sculpture. I had also been to the Grand Canyon and was completely surprised when I came to The Badlands in South Dakota, which rivaled the grandeur of the Grand Canyon in many ways.
I now arrived at Custer State Park, which has incredibly interesting rock formations and single-lane roads cut straight through the rock. Arriving at the trailhead, Sylvan Lake is an absolutely gorgeous alpine lake lake tucked in between giant formations of granite rock and towering majestic pine trees.
The route to the summit starts with a well-worn path along a meadow and almost immediately into the forest. The trail is blazed with the number "9" (look for the trail number at the intersecting trails to make sure you stay on the correct one). The trail is not steep, until you reach the final few hundred yards. During the way you'll pass into the Black Elk Wilderness Area. Eventually you will come to a ladder that leads to the massif at the summit, and a fire-tower at the very top. While the fire-tower is the highest point on the trail, it is manmade, so the highest point on natural rock is marked with a steel rod on the north side of the tower. To get there, you need to carefully climb around the outside of the tower and then scramble up a steep boulder (there is a 1,000 foot drop off to the side, so it may not be worth the risk to reach the pin itself).